The long walk into exile

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WE LEFT Eenghala village on foot, taking the eastern direction through the following villages: Ondjaba yalala where we collected our fifth colleague John, Ohalushu, Okatope, Ohaukelo, and Etomba, where we spent two nights before proceeding to Ehoma village. As we passed through Ondobe village early in the morning, we could hear the sound of the South African soldiers’ vehicles east of us.

The sound scared us, as we feared that the soldiers might come across our foot prints and pursue us. On the way to Ehoma village that day, John had suggested that we abandon our mission, as he feared that the South African security forces might end up arresting us.
Alternatively, John suggested that we split into two groups in order to avoid detection by enemy agents and collaborators in the areas we were supposed to pass through. We all rejected his suggestions and warned him never to bring up such a suggestion in future.

Knowing well that by now people in our villages were aware of our mission, we jointly agreed not to allow John to return home. Instead, we warned him sternly that if he ever attempted to run away we would pursue him until he was dead. The message was clear and hence the choice was his. John reluctantly agreed to continue with us, as he knew that the consequences of running away would have been bitter to swallow. Except John and Amukwaya, who had small knives, the rest of us had long homemade traditional knives, ‘Omikonda’.

As none of us, apart from John, was ready to return home, Sam and I secretly agreed that in the event that John decided to run away, we would simply kill him and bury him there. In fact, I offered to stab him from behind. Despite the serious warning, John tried to escape while we were at Ehoma village. His attempt to escape led to a physical scuffle with Sam.

The fight only stopped after I intervened and John promised never to try to run away again.
John had a relative, a certain Selma, in Ehoma village.

This was where John had met freedom fighters for the first time. When we arrived at Ehoma, we went straight to Selma’s homestead where we were well received by her husband. After explaining to Selma that we were looking for the freedom fighters to take us to Angola, she told us that they had last seen the PLAN fighters two weeks before. However, she assured us that they could pass through the village any time, as they usually arrived unannounced.

Later Ms Selma’s husband told us that he had heard that freedom fighters had been seen moving around Eeshoke village the previous week: hence, he was optimistic that we could meet them any time. However, the old man warned us to be extra careful because enemy forces frequented their village. He promised to link up with neighbouring villages’ headmen so that they should alert him about the arrival of the freedom fighters in their villages. He therefore advised that we hide ourselves in the bush during the day and only come home at night.
We spent almost a week at Ehoma before we proceeded to Omakondo village where PLAN fighters had been spotted.

However, while hiding in the bush one day John escaped. He asked us to wait for him, while he relieved himself in nearby bushes. After waiting for a while, we decided to follow his foot prints into the bush, and it was only then that we realised that he had escaped westwards. We pursued him and found him in a nearby village looking for food. Upon seeing us, he tried to hide in one of the huts. We asked him to come out voluntarily before we dragged him out. He complied with our request by following us outside the homestead where we beat him up though not severely. We warned him for the second time to abandon his escape plan, as that could cost him his life. The night before we left Ehoma for Omakondo village, John finally successfully escaped for good while we slept in Ms Selma’s homestead. We went after him for about two kilometres but could not find him. His escape put us under extreme pressure, as we were not sure he would not report us to the security forces right away.

After failing to track him down, we decided to continue with our journey, though this time around, under different conditions. The main problem we faced them was how we could introduce ourselves to the villagers who were supposed to feed us and help us contact the freedom fighters as they passed through those villages. With that dilemma, Amukwaya, combat name Shikwetepo, proposed that we seek the advice of Ms Selma’s husband on how we should best handle ourselves as we moved towards our destination.

The old man extended his usual hand of friendship by agreeing to take us to Omakondo village where he would also introduce us to the village headman there. As we continued with our journey to that village, the old man narrated how SWAPO fighters impressed him: mainly the way they interacted with villagers, their powerful weapons, and general appearance.

He also told us about the battle that had been fought between PLAN fighters and the South African soldiers around his village two months before. According to the old man, the battle was so fierce that villagers deserted their homesteads for two days due to intimidation by the colonial forces.

He further narrated how helicopters evacuated dead colonial soldiers and how the troops reacted to that battle by beating up villagers who had nothing to do with that fight. Although the distance from Ehoma to Omakondo village appeared long, we did not really feel it, as the story was interesting to all of us, besides that was actually the reason why we were there. We arrived at Omakondo village before sunset.

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